Kathleen Hanna

Columbia College, founded as Christian Female College, has a rich history of providing education for women. The opening of the school in 1851 marked the first institution of higher education for women west of the Mississippi to be chartered by a state legislature. Beginning March 1, Columbia College celebrates the history and the contributions of women around the world by hosting a series of events in honor of Women’s History Month.

The events share a theme: Do-it-yourself feminism.

“Women have been creating their own feminisms throughout history, using the power tools of their preference to address the issues facing women,” explains Dr. Tonia Compton, assistant professor of history, who helped organize the events. “From early authors like Mary Wollstonecraft to suffrage activists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul, and reformers like Mary McLeod Bethune to the Riot Grrrls of the 1990s, DIY feminism has been a strategy to confront sexism and discrimination. In today’s world, the issues facing girls and women are no less complex, complicated and controversial than in the past, and today’s activists have the power and knowledge to continue to confront these issues and affect change.”

See the Women’s History Month site for a complete list of Women’s History month events, the most anticipated of which is a lecture by Kathleen Hanna. The New York City-based artist is best known for her groundbreaking performances as a member of the seminal ’90s punk band, Bikini Kill, and her more recent multimedia group, Le Tigre. She is currently making art, giving lectures and writing a new album with her band The Julie Ruin.

Hanna will present her lecture, “My Art: Punk Rock Feminism and Beyond” March 20 at 7 p.m. in Launer Auditorium on main campus. In anticipation of her talk, we asked Hanna a few questions:

Have you ever been to Columbia, Mo., before?
No, but my yoga teacher is from there and has great things to say about it.

What are your impressions of the town?
I like to not have too many impressions if at all possible so I can be surprised!

Why are you looking forward to your visit?
Meeting with students as they always inspire me, and of course, talking about myself a lot.

What’s the topic of your lecture?
I’ll be talking about the behind the scenes events and process that make up my work. From the punk rock feminism of Bikini Kill; to my multimedia group, Le Tigre; zine making; visual art and beyond.

Tell us a little more about those things.
Bikini Kill was a punk rock feminist band I was in, in the 90s. Besides making music, we also wrote fanzines (handmade magazines) and were a big motivating force behind the punk feminist movement of the same era known as Riot Grrrl. We sounded loud and abrasive at times but also had some very sweet songs, and we switched instruments on stage. Our lyrics were often personal but also political.
Julie Ruin was a solo project that I wrote, recorded and mixed in my bedroom. It started with a $40 drum machine and a broken sampler and was my introduction to electronic based music. While I had written bass lines and melodies and lyrics in Bikini Kill, this project really marked the beginning of me as a musician and not just a singer.
Le Tigre was a multimedia feminist electronic band that existed from 1999 to 2005. We wrote politically infused pop songs. We had videos that played on a large screen behind us, costumes and choreographed dances as part of our stage show. We also changed instruments during our shows. Our best-known song was called “Deceptacon.”
The Julie Ruin is my current band. It started as a way for me to re-invent my earlier solo record Julie Ruin with a complete band so I could finally play those songs live; we ended up learning all those songs and writing 20 more. Our record is sounding playful and kind of psychedelic! Kathi, the bass player from Bikini Kill, also is in the band.

What are you up to these days?
The Julie Ruin is gearing up to release our first record in June, which means hours mixing in the studio, making cover art, setting up our own record label and making videos. Just thinking about it makes me tired! I’m also watching and giving comments on various cuts of a documentary about me and my work called The Punk Singer. It’s hard to watch it with a critical eye, as if I am a character and not a person!

What’s your advice to college students?
Find something you love to do, that is totally fun and you feel like you could do forever. Mix that with an issue you deeply care about. I would give this advice because it is what has allowed me to make work for over 20 years without completely burning out.

Curious for more? Check out Revolution – Riot Grrrl Style on March 12 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in Dorsey Gym. Enjoy pizza and discussion about the history of the Riot Grrrls and their impact on punk music feminism and American culture.